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The childcare argument to keep physical workplaces

Enhanced childcare support provisions could be a compelling argument for retaining physical workplaces post-coronavirus.

Speaking on the second day of The Economist’s Innovation@Work Virtual Week Dean Carter, chief human resources officer at outdoor clothing brand Patagonia, explained how childcare is engrained in his company’s culture.

Carter said: “Before [the pandemic] Patagonia was reasonably well known for its childcare programme […] Children are integrated into the workday. It's not unusual to see a mum nursing or a dad feeding a baby during the day […] You have them [your children] when you want to see them, and then someone takes care of them when you need to work.”

Pandemic restrictions have of course proved to be a major challenge to this culture over the past year.

Patagonia’s initial response, as with many companies, was to offer employees much more flexibility in their workday so they can balance work and childcare needs.

However, with homeschooling, and without the usual childcare support, many working parents have struggled.

“This [closing childcare] was a big deal for our culture, for our parents, on mental health, because now we had these kids and the parents were used to seeing and having this system to take care of their kids, and it just immediately went away,” said Carter.

The company’s childcare group also created a pod at one of the parent’s houses to help take care of the children and support working parents.

He added: “We just started innovating, and our services group became a wellness source of information for parents around how to take care of kids – there was constant information on how to take care of your children during this time, how to homeschool your kids, and how to make sure that their wellbeing is supported, and how to explain what's going on.”

Further reading

Working parents’ employment rights during the school closure

How HR can support working parents

Can we escape the single parent trap?

The workarounds Patagonia created however have not been as effective as their usual programme and so Carter is keen not only to reintroduce this system when feasible, but to extend it to provide further support for older children who have started school.

Currently only available to warehouse and office staff, he said the company would be looking at how to provide more childcare support to its retail employees too.

Carter concluded: “I think that the next stage, and particularly in COVID it’s very clear that a lot of parents really struggled with their kids who were in school, which is something we haven't really supported in the past.”